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US Navy Now Zapping Boats

by christian on April 12, 2011

The Navy and Northrop Grumman announced yesterday that for the first time a program that integrates solid state lasers on naval vessel had engaged another boat moving across the water.

I realize this was reported yesterday, but I wanted to get the discussion going here since Defense Tech has covered the development of the Boeing’s Advanced Tactical laser which fires a beam from an airborne C-130 and the Laser Avenger, an updated air defense Humvee which can engage UAVs, cruise missiles and other aerial targets.

Now we’ve got working prototypes of laser engagement systems on the ground, sea and air. It’s a complicated algorythm to aim and accurately fire a laser at a moving target that’s subjected to all the interference of an ocean environment — not just the movement, but sea spray and electrostatic activity just over the horizon.

Additionally, the Navy accomplished several other benchmarks, including integrating MLD with a ship’s radar and navigation system and firing an electric laser weapon from a moving platform at-sea in a humid environment. Other tests of solid state lasers for the Navy have been conducted from land-based positions.

Having access to a HEL weapon will one day provide warfighter with options when encountering a small-boat threat.

But while April’s MLD test proves the ability to use a scalable laser to thwart small vessels at range, the technology will not replace traditional weapon systems.

But as my colleague from DoD Buzz just said, if the services are unwilling to use the active denial system because they see it as a torture weapon, how will they ever use the weaponized version of a laser when people are aboard?

– Christian

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Mastro April 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

I guess its more impressive that it NOT slowly generating a fire.

Was it by chance that the engine was black?

Could they repeat it on a white or silver engine?

This test looks like something they would do on MythBusters- if they had their budget slashed.

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Rheim April 12, 2011 at 11:38 am

Seems pretty impressive to me.

The heated source didn't seem to move, even with the rolling waves and pitching boat. That seems like the targeting software was working pretty well.

The damage to the boat is secondary I think to the ability to actually hit it in maritime conditions. They can always look to increase the output of the laser. That won't mean anything if they can't hit their target.

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GEEWHIZ April 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Reported yesterday? I heard about this last week. Saw the video too. Good ole' DT.

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Doc Cox April 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I hope the laser was mounted on another boat or ship, and not on the outrigger you see on the boat! I like to see my tax dollars hard at work, but did they really have to use a pair of mercury 200's and what appears to be a nice rib boat to prove this thing works? wouldn't a 55 gal. drum bobbing in the water displayed the same results? $45,000 vs. $65.00, not hard math! no wonder we are going broke!!!

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Cody Howard, USMC April 15, 2011 at 7:53 am

You have to put in the fact that they could have spent the money on another warship to shoot at. Besides, barrels don't have a propulsion system and it would be pointless to be able to shoot a sitting target. When engaging the US Navy they don't sit still, they try to run.

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Michael April 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Yes, as typical example of wasting taxpayers' money. Why burn one when you can burn more?

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Steve Hardy April 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm

All I want is to see it work on something wrapped in silver foil and not a convenient black and trough a cloud of water vapour every sensible pirate will be able to flood the air with in a couple of years!

Steve

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TLAM Strike April 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Alliumum foil, or mirrors or the shiny side of duct tape will not help. Lasers vaporize material and no mirriored surface is 100% relective so even for the best mirror possable that tiny bit of energy that seeps though will vaporise the shiny surface leaving whatever was armored bare. The only feasable way to stop a laser is with layers of dense armor with a high vaporizeation tempature like carbon or steel to prevent “Drilling” the armor and something that keeps cool under high tempatures to protect against thermal damage (and impluse damage too).

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paperpushermj April 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm

What if a misting system is set up. Will a laser burn though an ever self regenerating barrier of water droplets.

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Maxtrue April 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm

One line of defense would be a highly electrified surface capable of creating plasma which could disrupt the coherence of the incoming laser. Defense Tech has my comments from years back speculating that the "skin" on future aircraft and other vehicles will be active. The same nano and meta-material system for generating "cloaking" will likely be able to deploy thousands of micro jets capable of generating a plasma which also can moderate air flow for steering. Mirrors won't work nor the will anti-lasers given the chaos of the environment.

The advantage to this arms race is that only the most advanced will keep up, the rest will fall significantly behind. targeting is key as lasers will keep on getting stronger and stronger. Mobile power sources are critical too and DARPA should move towards mini-Thorium reactors. We are slowly countering the effects of atmospheric turbulence degrading coherence.

Besides Dew velocity is ready to deliver mass at such speed to compete with small nukes. I await a test of that capability. In time, Waverider should should be able to punch a hole completely through a scrap battle ship with the force of .4 kilotons. You'll need a damn large laser to stop it coming down.

Well, all this is my amateur opinion of course.

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OpenID April 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Say what? Really.

TLAM Strike April 12, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Sure it works all well and good until the laser vaporizes the water and the energy of the laser sends the super heated water vapor back towards the target.

no “Sandcasters” or in this case “Watercasters” won’t work either.

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blight April 13, 2011 at 12:04 am

Steam is not to be trifled with. Against skin, steam burns are worse than hot water. Un-fun stuff. However, I imagine Somali pirates won't have mister systems.

Hawt April 13, 2011 at 2:38 am

The only silver foil is the one your hat is made of. Clouds of water vapour? Somali pirates can barely manage a speedboat with some RPGs and AKs. What sort of delusional rube goldberg machines are you thinking of?

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STemplar April 12, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Proof of concept system. Has done very well. Some of the arguments against I think don't quite understand the amount of energy they are talking about in the full power version of some of these systems.

A laser that can cut through 20 feet of steel in a second is not going to be slowed down in any significant way by reflective material. Will that material scatter some photos? Yes, will that power of a beam cut through that material in a nano second anyway? Yes.

Even this test system was able to be fired at a moving target, at sea level in surf conditions. It already passed through more water vapor than a single boat with a fire hose can probably put up. Then there are the practical considerations. A fire hose pump is not a daisy, it's a pretty heavy piece of gear and to carry that in addition to any kind of weaponry and crew is no small feat for a speed boat. Probably not possible. Plus keep in mind this is a defensive weapon, so if they bad people are slowing down to throw up water vapor, which they would have to in order to stay in the area where the cloud is, the ship with the laser is waving goodbye as it sails away.

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OpenID April 12, 2011 at 9:55 pm

20 ft steel depth, assuming 1cm diam, assuming vaporized steel gets out of the way, assuming 1 ns, equals 1/10 petawatt completely absorbed by the steel. Not counting a few other things that would bollix this up, the math suggests you haven't done yours. BUT, your rebuttals probably hold water. Ba dap ch!

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Tony C April 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm

This is not an impressive test of an HEL. Vaporizing the target in a microsecond is an impressive test of an HEL. Maybe this footage is to entertain the masses.

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Bill April 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm

"Solid state lasers are just the beginning. The Navy’s also working on a much more powerful Free Electron Laser weapon thanks to ONR’s research. That laser works across multiple wavelengths, compensating for debris in the sea air, to cut through 20 feet of steel per second once it gets up to megawatt class. Its electron injectors are ahead of schedule and ONR expects it to be ready in the 2020s, though after its solid state cousins are operative."

“This is an important data point,” the admiral says, “but I still want the Megawatt death ray.”

..They invented the glider before they invented the jet.

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Mark O'Connell April 13, 2011 at 11:45 am

I read 2000 feet of steel per second in the megawatt class and 20 currently.

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Jacob April 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm

If your fleet is being bothered by small boats, I would think the ideal solution would be a few AH-1 Super Cobras and their 20mm cannons. The lasers would be better saved for cruise missiles.

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Matrix_3692 April 13, 2011 at 6:00 am

but the question that you face will be can you burn down the cruise missile before it hit you? until they can increase the laser's output to vaporizer the missile, it's still better suited for burning down surface targets.

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Tom April 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm

or maybe there could -what would have nobody guessed- be a reason behind it. Maybe this is the same constallation with the motors like somali pirates use often. The USN faced them already. Then the bill would include training and testing which is actually costsaving.

oh boy I'm wall street.

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john moore April 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I gotta ask why use two 100hp merc outboards? The cost alone.

Talk about waste.

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Moondog April 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Just a though, but if you want to drill holes through expensive outboard motors, a 50 cal M2, or 25mm chain gun will work just as well, is current technology and a whole lot cheaper than a laser. Also uses less power. Ahh well, the taxpayers $$ at work.

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siconik April 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I am sure longbows were at one point far cheaper more effective than early firearms…

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Moondog April 12, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Actually quite the opposite. It took years of training to master the longbow. Early firearms took a few hours. Longbows were still in use, and effective, about 300 years after the introduction of handheld firearms. If the same time frame goes for the laser, the M2 and chaingun will still be as good as a laser for drilling holes in outboards 100 years from now.

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Maxtrue April 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm

I read somewhere that arrows were able to target Custer's troops over the hills which blocked line of sight rifles. Like mortars, they were pretty effective. The Brits debated whether to keep bow and arrows an option. (Of course Rambo made them famous with explosive tips.)

But then Custer decided not to bring along the Gatling guns and the Defense Department preferred single shots to the Indians Remington repeaters… I'm assuming the learning curve has improved.

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blight April 13, 2011 at 12:02 am

You can use rifles for plunging fire. Don't know about how frequently it is actually employed. However, anything in the indirect mode will be highly inaccurate.

Maxtrue April 12, 2011 at 9:18 pm

This is a test for something far larger. What?

Loose IPS
sink ships

Also the X-37 is the only recon in sub orbital that can take a punch from a Chinese of Russian laser.

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Tom Billings April 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Bill, this was *not* a FEL, but a solid state laser. That is a significant difference, because they may be available before FELs will be. FELs will have both higher power, if the NAVY has the juice onboard, and it has the ability to switch from one wavelngth to another along the spectrum till they find one in which the material coating the target absorbs best, and *then* turn the power up. *Everything* absorbs better at some wavelengths than others, and that changes with temperature as well.

Regards,

Tom Billings

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TROJANII April 12, 2011 at 7:11 pm

What was the total time of the test? It looked like they cut away at least two times. Also, can they do this on a moving target?

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Prodozul April 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm

The boat was moving

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TROJANII April 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Barely.

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RizerBurnz April 12, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Absolutely unimpressive…

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easy3maw April 12, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Enter text right here!I guess

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jeftex April 12, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Well I guess somebody will outfit the Somali Pirates with tinfoil hats.

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FreDraken April 12, 2011 at 10:29 pm

> if the services are unwilling to use the active denial system because they see it as a torture weapon, how will they ever use the weaponized version of a laser when people are aboard?<
Well, it's not because **DOD** sees it as a "torture weapon", it's that the New York Times and Al Jazeera will report that "serious questions have been raised by human rights organizations" about the use of the weapon and then PBS and NPR will pick up on that and then some lefty women in congress will hold pressers and that will be the end of it.

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Mike April 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Guys I guess your missing the concept, sure we can launch a hail of 50cal rounds at the boat, but a laser travels at the speed of light, strait, and over a great distance. If you have boats 2000 yards out and you are wanting to disable them by pin pointing the engine, what other options are out there?

As far as using the engines vs a "floating drum", this tested several aspects that a drum wouldn't offer. A moving target, how long to disable the engines, ability to cut through the engines, etc.

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Hawt April 13, 2011 at 2:41 am

@Mike, absolutely. One sane comment in the entire list, finally.

The point of a laser is also the ability to switch from target to target, defeating a swarm of small boats. Think Iran's strategy versus the Navy in the Persian Gulf, especially the straights of Hormuz.

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Matrix_3692 April 13, 2011 at 6:10 am

for the first decade the laser will be making it's true debut in combat, it will be an awesome weapon of fear, until everyone is familiar to the weapon and countermeasure is developed and fielded.

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joe April 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

Seems to me, disabling the boats will not keep it from launching missiles. The anti-ship missiles need to be cooked off.

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shawn1999 April 13, 2011 at 9:20 am

1) You can't change the power of 20mm or chain guns. You can change the power of HELs
2) You can always run out of bullets. If you run out of power, your in trouble anyway
3) HEL allows you to adjust aim while not spending ammunition (its a beam, not a shot)
4) HEL gives you options- anything from causing discomfort of the enemy combatant, to blinding them (can't hit what you can't see), to cutting through their boat like a hot knife through butter. Aim for the missiles and make them blow before they hit their target, disable that suicide ship before it hits the boat, or kill the engines of a speeder moving contraband. One weapon. Many options. A 20mm or a chain gun can only accomplish one or two of these tasks.

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Steve Lyons April 13, 2011 at 9:27 am

It would be more impressive if the "target" vessel was making evasive maneuvers and at speed. Granted it is bobbing in the water, that isn't a "combat situation" where this could be useful. Also what is the damage to a human that is hit with the beam, not that I car about the bad guys, but in a combat situation that is a likely outcome too.

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Mark O'Connell April 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

So if the taget vessel is smart enough to make appropriate evasive maneuvers at speed then his time is used up in doing so. You turned his tactics into survival and so reduced his effectiviness. This could cost the driver his life if his body inadvertantly intersects the beam. I hope you are begining to see the picture. The target ship has to be 100% effective at evasion at current power levels. The target ship's goal may be in direct conflict with it's ability. This takes into account that the lasing will be slow. What about when it's at power and takes .1 or less seconds to swiss cheese the engine.

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Sian April 13, 2011 at 10:22 am

So would they pick up pirates from boats that have their motors lasered into ****, or just leave them floating 200 miles from shore with no food and no paddles?

Not that I’d complain I’m just curious.

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Mark O'Connell April 13, 2011 at 11:37 am

This was not a FEL. It was a HEL or you could say solidstate.

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shawn1999 April 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

No to mention that, according to this article: http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,229554,0

We add the option of placing a single beam within 3 mm of a target (in rough seas), or spreading the beam out like a fan to create a wide sweep of counter electronics (after all, we are only talking about electronic wavelengths- just very high powered ones which have the potential to cause damage as well).

Your counter-electronics measures, your non-lethal, AND your lethal defenses, all in one package means dropping a load of weight- great for planes, trains, and automobiles (as well as ships)

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ben April 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm

The active denial system is anti-personel phased array microwave, (same tech as radar), which is intended to cause pain without causing permanent damage.

Lasers are photon pumps that are intended to melt material and light things on fire, I.E. an anti-materiel weapon.

two completely different devices, for two completely different purposes.

I fail to see how being reluctant to deploy an anti-personel "pain ray", would translate to being reluctant to deploy an anti-materiel incendiary ray.
Seeing as how the USA never ratified the treaty banning incendiary weapons, and pays only lip service to most such high-minded but pointless concepts. (you can't shoot the infantry with that .50 cal, but feel free to target the equipment that they are carrying.)

Dead is dead, and it doesn't really matter if you were burned by the laser, or by the fuel that the laser ignited.

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Jeannie April 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Google award contract M67854-04-C-5074. It's a contract with the Office of Naval Research and the University of Florida Sponsored Research Department to study the sensory consequences of using a laser from 1.242 kilometers away (over a mile and a half) to torture and kill people with taser-like motor effects and other pain infliction scenarios. Just like the laser that caught the boat on fire, the beam is invisible. The Office of Naval Research has been working diligently to use this laser weapon for defense force protection, homeland security and law enforcement purposes as the contract clearly states. The New World Order is here and American citizens will be targeted with this weapon as they go about their daily lives. They have been using the laser weapons on Americans for several years. An FBI agent stated to me that many citizens are coming to them complaining they are being electrically shocked by aircraft, but the FBI can do nothing because America is at war and therefore, the military can do whatever they want to anyone.

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d.nt April 14, 2011 at 10:29 am

why would you even bother responding to a post like that?

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ben April 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm

because, sometimes they are merely pathetically ignorant instead of crazy.

It is amazing what people will believe just because someone they trusted told them.

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joe manning July 9, 2011 at 1:19 am

oh and can it still be entertaining to mess with the dogs and cats with it bet they know the answer to that .

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